Russian ex-arms dealer freed for Brittney Griner to run for far-right party in local vote

(Reuters) – A Russian arms dealer freed last December in a prisoner swap for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been chosen as the candidate of a far-right party for a seat in a Russian regional legislature, state news agency RIA reported on Sunday.

Viktor Bout, once dubbed “the merchant of death” by the United States, served 10 years of a 25-year sentence in U.S. prisons on arms dealing charges until his release in the prisoner exchange with Griner, an Olympic gold medallist.

RIA cited an official in Russia’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR)’s local organisation as saying that Bout had been nominated as a candidate for the legislative assembly of the Ulyanovsk region in central Russia.

Bout was arrested by U.S. agents during a sting in Thailand in 2008. The U.S. Department of Justice described him as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers who had sold weapons across the globe to terrorists and America’s enemies for decades. Bout always denied the charges.

Griner was sentenced in 2022 to nine years in a penal colony for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil – which is banned in Russia – after a judicial process labelled a sham by Washington. Griner has since resumed her sports career.

Bout publicly joined the LDPR following his return to Russia. Despite its name, the LDPR holds far-right, ultra-nationalist views and strongly supports President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The LDPR has previously provided a home to Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted in Britain for the 2006 murder of ex-KGB officer and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Lugovoi has served as an LDPR member of Russia’s national parliament since 2007.

(Reporting by Felix Light; Editing by Gareth Jones)